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Keywords:

  • assortative mating;
  • hybrid zone;
  • prezygotic isolation;
  • sexual selection

Previous behavioural studies using inbred lines have suggested that the gene (Abpa) for the alpha subunit of salivary androgen-binding protein (ABP) plays a role in prezygotic isolation between house mouse Mus musculus subspecies. We tested this hypothesis in animals from wild allopatric (121 individuals from four samples) and parapatric (320 animals from 15 samples) populations sampled on the Czech–Bavarian transect across the hybrid zone between M. m. domesticus and M. m. musculus. The study did not reveal a consistent statistically significant trend of homosubspecific preferences in individual allopatric and parapatric populations. Nonetheless, the whole pattern of preference was skewed toward homosubspecific preference mostly on the M. m. musculus side of the hybrid zone. The pattern of homosubspecific preferences was stronger for the time spent sniffing than it was for the first choice of the signal (the ratio of homosubspecific vs. heterosubspecific preferences for both sexes was 6 : 2 in allopatric and 21 : 9 in parapatric populations, while the same rates were 4 : 4 and 16 : 14 for the first choice). To the extent that Y-maze tests reflect preference under wild conditions, we suggest that this slight preference may not in itself be sufficient to impede gene flow between the two subspecies and thus act as a reproductive barrier. ABP most probably participates in a complex system of subspecies-specific recognition in the hybrid zone, but the picture is far too complex at this time to allow a conclusive evaluation of the importance of this role. © 2005 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2005, 84, 349–361.